Arguments are collections of sentences in which each sentence is either a premise or a conclusion. Here, for example, is a simple argument. Humans must learn about the basic neural processes in the brain if we are going to develop therapies for crippling diseases. Using monkeys in invasive experiments is a good way to learn about basic human neural processes. Therefore, we should perform invasive experiments on monkeys.

What is the conclusion, or contention, of this argument? We should perform invasive experiments on monkeys. We know because it follows the keyword, 'therefore.' Is it the right conclusion? Some will agree with it, some will disagree. For example, animal defenders--such as Jeff McMahan--object that because monkeys have psychological capacities similar to some humans, monkeys have the moral right not to be treated in this way. On the other hand, human defenders--such as Leon Kass--believe that humans and only humans have dignity and are irreplaceable. Monkeys lack moral standing, according to Kass, and he fears that attributing moral rights to animals will debase the notion of moral rights.

How do we make up our minds about who is right in these debates? By deciding whose position has the strength of reason on its side. And to do that we first carefully identify the contention; articulate the premises being offered for it; figure out how the premises are related to each other; assess whether the argument has a valid form; and then assess the truth of each premise.

If you're familiar with the skills of argument analysis just identified, we recommend you move ahead to the next module. But if you need an introduction or brief refresher, go off-site and work through an online critical thinking tutorial. Austhink Rationale2 reviews basic terminology and procedures and explains one way to map and evaluate arguments. When you've finished the tutorial, navigate your way back to this screen and go on to the next Module.

Author: comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2009-09-01